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Hog Outlook: Research shows that the law’s requirements do not equal animal welfare.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

March 11, 2024

3 Min Read
Hogs in a pen
SPACE DOESN’T EQUAL WELFARE: California’s Prop 12 specifies the amount of space that sows and gilts need to be given, but that extra space does not necessarily translate to better animal welfare. National Pork Board

Producers wishing to comply with California’s voter-enacted standards in Proposition 12 need to have their operations certified to be able to sell pork products into the Golden State market.

The first step is hiring a certifying agent, and according to Jamee Eggers, producers will find the on-farm inspection portion similar to a common swine industry audit. “The auditor will measure pens, verify the square footage available to the pigs and review documentation,” Eggers says.

Eggers is the founder and president of Rafter J Consulting LLC, specializing in strategic solutions for livestock and food producers. She is also a certifying agent with CloverLeaf Animal Welfare Systems.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, the agency charged with regulating the letter of the law of Prop 12, has a list of accredited certifying agents on its website that producers may contact to get the process rolling.

Just as with a visit from a common swine industry auditor, a certifying agent will not come unannounced.

“They look at all the animal enclosures to make sure that the sows have 24 square feet per sow and can turn around freely,” Eggers says, referring to the sow space requirement spelled out in the California law that was passed in 2018 and went into effect at the first of this year.

Certifying agents also check producers’ records, confirming documentation that the sows were kept in compliance. “This includes reviewing veterinary exemptions for confining sows longer than allowed,” Eggers says. “Also, the records for husbandry practices like heat checking, breeding, etc.; verifying the sows aren’t confined longer than six hours in a 24-hour period and not more than 24 hours in a 30-day period to perform those activities.”

Once the producers’ facilities and record-keeping meet the approval of the certifying agent, the producer will receive certification that is good for one year.

Eggers notes that producers who raise pigs under programs such as Humane Certified or Global Animal Partnership, or GAP, will still need to be Prop 12-certified to sell into California.

As of yet, she says there is a mix of U.S. swine producers looking to comply with the California regulations, as well as those who plan to carry on with their current production practices and facilities whether they are Prop 12-compliant or not.

Is Prop 12 better?

California voters brought Prop 12 to a vote in 2018 under the guise that the requirements set in the language would be better for both welfare and sustainability. Research done by Pipestone Veterinary Services shows that accomplishing these goals in a Prop 12 system is challenging.

Cara Haden, Pipestone director of animal welfare, presented welfare assessments on three different housing systems — stall, traditional pen and Prop 12 compliant. All three systems have positive and negative aspects. Although Prop 12 allows for greater movement and interaction with other sows and the environment, there are some real challenges when it comes to lameness.

The percentage of sows treated for lameness were 3.5% in stalls, 7.8% in pens and 10.2% in Prop 12-compliant housing.

The same trend holds for the percentage of sows culled due to lameness: 0.45%, 0.88% and 1.2% for stall, pen and Prop 12, respectively.

When researchers looked at the percentage of sows that died due to lameness, the same trend line held true: 0.45%, 0.56% and 1.11%, respectively.

“From a lameness standpoint, Prop 12 is certainly not the system we would have chosen as an industry,” Haden says. “Having said that, this is what our customers have asked for, and so we have an obligation to make Prop 12 systems work.”

Pipestone research also looked at the need for injections for both anti-inflammatory and antibiotics, as well as total sow death loss, and the same trend line held true in all three investigations, with the Prop 12-compliant housing showing the higher incidences of the need for injections and death loss.

Realizing that Prop 12 is not going away, and regardless of what regulations say, animal welfare and health is what matter at the end of the day. With that in mind, Haden says Pipestone is dedicated to improving the lameness-related welfare concerns through pen designs, genetic selection, and distraction and enrichment.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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